Going Infinite – Modern And The Safer Path

Now that Modern has been confirmed as a real, future format, Jonathan Medina advises you on how to make smart investments now.

Modern is the flavor of the week; speculators and players alike are betting with their dollars on what they think might go up in price. I’m still trying to piece together what this new format will look like. This means that I don’t have the super-secret financial tech for you. Instead, I want to talk about how to approach investing in Modern. Before we get too deep let’s bash out the basics.

What Is Modern

Maybe you’ve been living under a rock and you don’t know that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) created a new format for the 2011 Community Cup. They called the format Modern. Here’s what is legal in Modern:

  • Eighth Edition
  • Ninth Edition
  • Tenth Edition
  • Magic 2010
  • Magic 2011
  • Mirrodin block
  • Kamigawa block
  • Ravnica block
  • Coldsnap
  • Time Spiral block (including the “timeshifted” cards)
  • Lorwyn block
  • Shadowmoor block
  • Shards of Alara block
  • Zendikar block
  • Scars of Mirrodin block

For the Community Cup they used this Banned List.

  • Ancient Den
  • Seat of the Synod
  • Vault of Whispers
  • Great Furnace
  • Tree of Tales
  • Chrome Mox
  • Dark Depths
  • Sensei’s Divining Top
  • Skullclamp
  • Sword of the Meek
  • Umezawa’s Jitte
  • Golgari Grave-Troll

Keep in mind this Banned List could change. I could see cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Hypergenesis being on here.

Was I Wrong?

When Modern was announced for the Community Cup, the speculation erupted with full force. This is what I said about speculating on Modern when it was announced.

“I could do what I’m sure a lot of financial writers will do and give you a list of cards that would be good pickups for the Modern format, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to go against the grain here and say, “Don’t speculate on Modern.” I’ve always said that “one bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush.” There are two reasons why I follow this logic.

The first reason is that a window will always exist. In other words, there will be a time between when Modern is confirmed as a paper format (if this happens) and when it’s fully adopted by the community. In that time, the price of singles will still be unaffected. This is the perfect time to swoop in and pick up the Modern staples that you think will make a splash in the format. The problem here is that the window is small, and it gets smaller as the information travels.”

I want to talk about this advice for a moment. The first thing that I want to note is that I stand behind my advice, “Don’t speculate on Modern.” The reason that I make this point is because there’s an elephant in the room here. I told you not to speculate on Modern, and if you would have gone against my advice, then some of your speculation could have paid off! Let’s look at my example of Sam Stod from that article.

My buddy Sam Stod did this with Hypergenesis. He picked up a couple of hundred at .08 each. He invested 16 tickets into something that can pay off in a big way.

If Sam bought 200 Hypergenesis for .08 each and can now sell them to bots (this is worst-case scenario) for .32 each (a profit of .24 each) then he turns his 16 tickets into 64 tickets! If you listen to Sam Stod then you make $48, and if you listen to me you make zero. Or so it seems, but what did I do with my $16? Let’s bust out a hypothetical scenario (I probably did this in some capacity). Since I noticed that Dismember was showing up in Legacy and a good number of Standard decks, I bought 32 Dismembers at .50 each. Then I sold them to Star City Games for $2 each (In case you didn’t know, Dismember is a $6 card now). This move makes me hypothetically even with Sam Stod, but it doesn’t show you the value in my advice.

To be clear, I am not saying one person is right and one person is wrong. Instead, I am trying to show you the way that I think. Once you understand both ways of doing business, then you can make an educated decision on how you want to do business. The difference between my investment and Sam’s is that my investment comes with less risk. Sam made his investment before we were sure that Modern would be a real format. If Modern didn’t pan out, then Sam would have tied up his $16 in something that didn’t yield a profit and then spend the time dumping his bad investment. My investment was based on what I suspected to be a trend, and it turns out that I was right.

To play devil’s advocate, I could have been wrong about Dismember being a trend. Then that would have put me in the same place as Stod if Modern didn’t pan out. The difference here is the operator on which we both based our investments. I can get better at identifying trends; no one can get better at knowing the future. When you invest in a trend, then you invest in your ability to interpret data; when you invest in the possible outcome of an event, then you invest in the hope that things go the way that you want.

Betting on cards is a typical temptation when dealing with buying and selling cards. It’s the grind versus the fast flashy money scenario. When you make a call and hit, you feel like a million bucks, but when you miss you lose money. It’s really hard to lose money in the grind because you are buying cards at buy list prices, which is (40-70%) of their market value. Notice that with the grind you’re dealing with something more tangible. If you buy a Dismember for $2 right now, chances are that you can sell them for $4 pretty easily. The downside to the grind is that it takes more work; you have to build a reputation and set up a network of outlets and find people to sell you cards at buylist pricing. This is not as hard as you would think (see below); remember cash is king.

I know that this article got a little bit heady for a moment. There’s a lot of philosophical stuff with no card analysis and no pictures, sorry about that. For those of you who skipped that section, basically I said, “Why spend money on speculation when you can leverage your money to buy cards that are trending now or buy cards at buylist pricing? My advice is always to go for the sure money over the maybe-money.”

The Window

The second thing that I want to note about my above statement should tie this whole philosophy together. I said, “…a window will always exist… when [Modern] is fully adopted by the community… This is the perfect time to swoop in and pick up the Modern staples that you think will make a splash in the format.” The window that I was talking about is closing as you read this, but there is still some amount of time before prices start to lock in. Now that Modern is official we should pick up the format staples.

By now, things like the shocklands have gone up in price on the bigger sites. For a speculator this means that the time has come to move on to the next “call” and cash in on the shocklands that they invested in. For us grinders it means that things are just starting up. Above I told you to buy cards at buylist pricing. I’m sure that some of you looked at me sideways and said, “If we could do that, then we wouldn’t need your column!” Consider this:

Star City Games doesn’t buy or trade for cards at retail, yet they have lots of cards in stock.

How does this happen? I’ll tell you how; people sell and trade them cards! If you offer competitive buy prices in your area then why would someone sell cards to a dealer or a local shop if you’re going to give them more money? The answer is, “They wouldn’t!” If you offer competitive buy prices then you’re one step closer to becoming the local go-to guy, but you are still missing something. What is it? INVENTORY.

This is why we want shocklands and other Modern staples, even with their currently inflated-by-speculators price. We want to have them in our inventory so that we can facilitate the needs of the people around us. Now that we know Modern is coming, we are switching modes to ENGAGE Mode. Instead of speculating, we are stocking, and by stocking we are positioning ourselves to become the local dealer. So what exactly are we stocking?


Here’s a list of cards that I consider Modern Staples.

Shocklands $9.99-$24.99 — Modern or not, you should have been trying to pick these up anyway because of Commander players and cube makers. These two audiences are the reason that the shocklands didn’t really take a hit after the rotation out of Extended. Let me caution you here; there is a rumor that one of the upcoming blocks is a return to Ravnica. I have a sneaking suspicion that these will be reprinted then.

Zendikar fetchlands $11.99-$14.99 — The price may dip on these once they leave Standard, But I expect these to be a key player in the Modern mana bases.

Dark Confidant $49.99 — This is on his way up because of Legacy, and his popularity will be compounded by Modern.

Tarmogoyf $69.99 — No need for an introduction here.

Stoneforge Mystic $9.99 — This was seeing a lot of play in Extended toward the end of last season. I expect it to also see significant play in Modern.

Vendilion Clique $9.99 — This guy has been in everything from Bant aggro to U/W Control. It will see play in Modern, and its performance in Legacy is pushing the price up.

Thoughtseize $19.99 — This is still the best pound for pound discard spell in the format.

Time Warp $4.99 — This is my “wild card” pick. I don’t expect it to be a staple of Modern, but I do expect it to see play. The combination of Modern PTQ season and Commander demand could drive this card up in price.

Do Not Engage

I only have one cycle of cards under this section.

Filter lands — I picked these up in Extended season last year, but very few of these were actually used. The B/G one (Twilight Mire) was big because of Conley Wood’s Ooze deck, but the rest didn’t see much play. Between the shocks, SOM fast lands, and the fetches, the mana bases seem pretty solid. Some of these could hit; some could not. Do you want to gamble or take the sure bet?

Non-Modern Pick-Ups

Here are a couple of non-Modern cards that I’ve been watching.

Intuition $24.99 — This card has been underpriced for a while. It’s now seeing play as a four-of in the Hive Mind deck (also in a handful of other decks), and the online dealers’ supplies are depleting. I expect a jump to $35 soon; then who knows where to from there?

Ichorid $5.99 — The stock levels for this guy are also depleting. It’s been $5-6 forever, and with the growing popularity of Dredge I expect this to hit $10 soon.

That’s all I have for you this week. Be sure to check out these Modern decks from the Community Cup, and keep your eyes open for some of the key cards in them. I’ll be at Gen Con next week; be sure to stop by and say hi! Thanks for reading.